Saturday morning cartoons have always had a strange history with video games. Honestly, none of them have been very good. There have a been a couple standouts, but compared to the high bar set by other shows, they barely compare. That doesn’t stop some creators from trying … a few times. Sonic has had four completely different shows, ranging in tone and quality. Wildly so with quality.
Sonic was never really a fleshed out concept. He was purely a game mechanic, with developers adding things like story and character development years later, much to the detriment of the property. With only Sonic 1 and 2 released on the the Sega Genesis, there was little for writers to run with (pun). Rather than developing their own ideas, Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog followed the typical formulaic shtick. Dr. Robotnik (remember, he wasn’t Eggman till a few years later) had some evil plot foiled by Sonic and Tails on a weekly basis. Sadly, this garbage got 65 episodes, with Steven freakin’ Urkel Jaleel White voicing Sonic. “I’m waaaaiiiiting.”
The show ended with a segment called “Sonic Sez,” during which he would educate the audience. The segment lacked any context to explain the ambiguously chosen, FCC-approved terminology perpetuating a cult of fear. Shows in the late ’80s and early ’90s were educational, whether you wanted them to be or not. It was this line of thinking that gave me an irrational fear of temporary tattoos, as they’re probably laced with LSD. Anyway, this iteration of Sonic was colorful and full of comic mischief. He also had a penchant for chili dogs. Seriously, he goes on about them like they’re product placement.
Shifting gears completely is Sonic the Hedgehog (1993). This show was dark and depressing. I remember watching and being sad afterward. Robotnik and his forces staged a coup after the great war, being passed over for a position he thought he deserved. Disposing of the king and enslaving the citizens with a device that stole their free will, he ruled. Again, Sonic hadn’t been fleshed out much in the games, so the writers were free to interpret as they wanted. Popular — though never seen in the games — character Sally Acorn was created here. She and Sonic led the Freedom Fighters against Robotnik. Jaleel White stayed on as Sonic, with Darkwing Duck himself, Jim Cummings, voicing Robotnik. While this was the superior show with an awesome opening song, it only lasted two 13-episode seasons.
Sonic Underground. I don’t even know where to begin. Sonic and his siblings, Sonia and Manic, have been separated from their mother, the queen. Not only does Sonic have siblings, but they’re the dumbest names ever. Wait, it gets better. The three have medallions that not only turn into instruments, but they double as laser guns. Yep. Sonic has a guitar, Sonia a keytar, and Manic drums. Of course he has drums, because his character design wasn’t taken from the Muppets at all. While searching for their mother, they also perform in their illegal rock band, Sonic Underground. White was the voice of Sonic for this one, too. Continuity! This had 40 episodes across two seasons. The cartoon stereotypes here are eye rolling.
The last, or likely, latest series was the best of the bunch, comparatively. Sonic X was an anime, following more in the vein of the Sonic Adventure games. Sonic was transported to Earth by the Chaos Emeralds, where he must find a boy named Chris Thorndyke and … something. I’ve seen a few episodes but couldn’t make heads or tails out of it (second pun). All things considered, it was the best series of the lot quality-wise, and it didn’t leave me depressed. They didn’t dig up Urkel to voice Sonic this time, and there wasn’t a chili dog in sight. After a decade of games, the character was a little more defined, giving the show more material to go on. Many mainstays of the series made an appearance, including Shadow, Knuckles, and Super
Saiyan Sonic. This is the longest running show of the bunch, with 78 episodes.
If I had to pick one, I’d go with the ’93 version. Again, Sonic has always been game mechanic, nothing more. He doesn’t work in the 3-D animation or anything beyond that (though 250+ issues of comic books disagree with me). Looking at the wildly varying takes on the character in animation, it’s easy to see my point. Maybe I’m just old and curmudgeonly, but I don’t see the appeal. This is from a guy who’s played more than a dozen Sonic games.
What was your favorite of Sonic’s animated adventures? Want another cartoon series, or would you rather these be erased from history? Comment, please. I’m waaaaiiiiting.
Sonic lived and died on the Genesis.